Longtime Executive Director Of PTSD Center Steps Down

Matthew Friedman, left, and U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., exchange momentoes during Leahy's visit to the National PTSD Center in White River Junction, Vt., in Aug. 2013. Friedman announced he will be retiring as the center's executive director. (Valley News - James M. Patterson)

Matthew Friedman, left, and U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., exchange momentoes during Leahy's visit to the National PTSD Center in White River Junction, Vt., in Aug. 2013. Friedman announced he will be retiring as the center's executive director. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »

White River Junction — The man who has been at the helm of the National Center for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder for more than two decades and helped lead research and education initiatives there since its inception in 1989 has retired as executive director.

Matthew Friedman will continue to be a part-time adviser to the center as his colleague, Paula Schnurr, takes over as the acting executive director, according to a news release on Thursday. Schnurr has been the deputy executive director since 1989.

A nationwide search for Friedman’s permanent replacement is planned.

The Center, based at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in White River Junction, conducts research to better understand the causes of PTSD and improve treatments.

“Matt’s leadership over the past 24 years has resulted in the Center’s becoming the world’s leading research and educational center of excellence on PTSD, setting the international agenda for trauma and PTSD research and education,” Schnurr said in a statement. “The Center’s work and achievements have made a profound difference in the lives of countless veterans and civilians alike, and their families.”

Friedman’s work in the field of traumatic stress began more than 40 years ago. Recognized by his peers to be one of the pioneers of the field, Friedman worked with PTSD-stricken veterans back when their suffering was known more vaguely as “post-Vietnam syndrome.’

Later, Friedman went against the grain of VA leadership, on a special committee that researched inequities in mental health care in VA hospitals around the country, to help persuade Congress to allocate hundreds of millions of dollars for PTSD care. He’s edited more than 20 books on the subject, and helped establish the National Center for PTSD — a multi-pronged consortium of the VA health care system that provides research, care and advocacy

Friedman graduated from Dartmouth in 1961 with degrees in math and psychology, before going on to study pharmacology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx and obtaining his medical degree at the University of Kentucky College of Medicine.

He returned the Upper Valley, where he took a job as a staff psychiatrist at the VA, where he quickly learned the challenges of treating veterans.

“We were all struggling to understand the demons,” Friedman told the Valley News in 2011.

He would go on to do seminal work in the field. In 1989, when the National Center for PTSD was established, it was Friedman’s fellow researchers who asked him to serve as executive director.

“We’re not born equal. Our differences are what make us so attractive to each other,” Friedman said in 2011. “But to be able to train kids to roll with punches and not get rolled over, to bounce back — I think kids would benefit.”